Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Day of Reckoning, brought to us from India

Together, the rise of Reform Math, the reduction in ability-based grouping and AP classes, the demise of the close reading and the analytical essay (see also this), and the growing rarity of instruction in the finer points of English grammar and sentence construction, have caused current and future American high school graduates to be decreasingly prepared for college. As more and more American college students display skills in math, writing, and reading comprehension that are way below expectations (ending up, even in some of the more selective colleges, in remedial math and writing classes), college admissions committees are increasingly looking abroad.

While much of the news about overseas applicants centers on China, with its thousands of Ivy League-aspiring applicants and their glossy, high-production value applications (and the growing suspicion that a fair amount of cheating is involved), it's India, I predict, that will bring to the American K12 education system the day of reckoning that we so desperately need it to have. First, unlike their Chinese counterparts, college applicants from India face no linguistic barriers; many speak and write a much more eloquent English than American (and even British) students do. Second, there are apparently tons of extremely well-qualified Indian applicants pinning their hopes on America's top colleges.

Indeed, as an October New York Times article inadvertently suggests, the Day of Reckoning may be close at hand:

Moulshri Mohan was an excellent student at one of the top private high schools in New Delhi. When she applied to colleges, she received scholarship offers of $20,000 from Dartmouth and $15,000 from Smith. Her pile of acceptance letters would have made any ambitious teenager smile: Cornell, Bryn Mawr, Duke, Wesleyan, Barnard and the University of Virginia.

But because of her 93.5 percent cumulative score on her final high school examinations, which are the sole criteria for admission to most colleges here, Ms. Mohan was rejected by the top colleges at Delhi University, better known as D.U., her family’s first choice and one of India’s top schools.

Ms. Mohan, 18, is now one of a surging number of Indian students attending American colleges and universities, as competition in India has grown formidable, even for the best students. With about half of India’s 1.2 billion people under the age of 25, and with the ranks of the middle class swelling, the country’s handful of highly selective universities are overwhelmed.
True, another reason--indeed, the only reason mentioned in the Times article--why American recruiters are seizing on this opportunity is because so many of the crème de la crème of overseas students are wealthy enough to pay full tuition, unlike many of their American counterparts. But it also helps that the K12 schools they attend aren't using Reform Math, aren't renouncing ability-based grouping, and aren't failing to provide college prep classes that are truly college preparatory. Indeed, if it were primarily her parents' pocket books that make Moulshri Mohan so attractive to Dartmouth and Smith, why are they offering her so many thousands of dollars of scholarship money?

So here are my dire predictions. In the next ten years, as the effects of Reform Math continue to percolate up the American school system, and as the number of highly qualified Indian students continues to outpace the numbers of spots at the best Indian universities, there will be a the growing displacement of American students by Indian students. Only then will a large enough proportion of the Powers that Be start realizing how urgent it is to enact actual education reform--reform, that is, that reverses the century's-long tide that has pushed our K12 schools further and further away from what's happening in the most successful school systems overseas.

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